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Republicans aim for a Scott Brown-style upset in Pennsylvania

Republicans are gunning for the House seat of the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha in Pennsylvania. They hope Tuesday's special election will replicate Scott Brown's 'Massachusetts miracle.'

By Staff writer / May 16, 2010

Republican candidate Tim Burns talks with patrons at a fish fry in New Germany, Pa. He is running for the seat held for 36 years by the late Democratic Rep. John Murtha, which he hopes he can win much like Scott Brown did in Massachusetts.

Keith Srakocic/AP


Waynesburg, PA

Call it “Scott Brown, the sequel.” With a “tea party” rebellion at his back, Republican businessman Tim Burns aims to turn a sprawling district in Pennsylvania’s once mighty coal, iron, and steel heartland into the next “Massachusetts miracle” in a May 18 special congressional election.

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“Why am I running for Congress? Meet one of the biggest reasons,” says Mr. Burns in his first television ad, which features a mug shot of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Pelosi’s big-government, liberal agenda is destroying America.”

New to electoral politics, Burns is facing Democrat Mark Critz, a former aide to Rep. John Murtha (D) of Pennsylvania, whose death on Feb. 8 prompted a special election to fill his unexpired term.

While Mr. Murtha never attained the national iconic status of Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), he was a giant in his own district. Over his 36 years in the House, Murtha muscled billions in defense and infrastructure spending to this struggling region. The race to replace him has drawn national attention – and campaign funding – as an early referendum on the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress.

“This election is everything but local. It’s a referendum on [Senate majority leader Harry] Reid, Pelosi, and Obama, and it could be a barometer for the rest of the nation,” says Joseph DiSarro, a political scientist at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.

“These are the voters that will make or break the Democrats in November and in 2012 – the moderate, conservative Democrats known as Reagan Democrats and independents. They’re pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-church and family, and they want limited government,” he adds.

At the same time, the region’s swath of near-abandoned mining towns illustrates the need for the federal help that Murtha long directed to this region.

Campaigning in jeans and a tweed jacket, Burns tells local activists at the College Town Diner in Waynesburg that the Obama/Pelosi health-care bill must be rolled back and that the Democrats’ energy bill is a “direct attack” on mining.

“This district contains the solution to America’s energy problems,” Burns says, noting that two of the largest coal mines in the world and vast natural-gas reserves are here. “The Department of Energy is supposed to make us energy independent. Instead, they’re the ones preventing us from being energy independent in western Pennsylvania. Just think of the jobs we could create here,” he adds.